1. Good evening, officer
When you’re pulled over by a police officer, don’t jump into explanations—they could be used against you in court. Be polite and keep a low profile, advises Russ Stallberg, a ex-postal union grievance officer who runs the site fightyourtickets.ca. “If you stand out in their minds, they’ll take extensive notes,” he warns. When the officer is gone, take detailed notes of your own.
2. Your options
The process varies by jurisdiction, but generally you have three options: you can pay the fine and plead guilty, you can plead guilty with explanation, or you can ask for a trial. If you’ve had tickets before, find out if the new ticket will mean losing your license or a huge jump in your insurance premiums (don’t call your insurance company, run scenarios at Kanetix.ca). If that’s the case, you may want to go to court to fight it.
3. The plea bargain
If the fine is the only issue, your best bet is to plead guilty with explanation. You’ll meet the prosecutor, who can reduce the fine and demerit points—even reduce the violation to a lesser charge. You don’t need a great excuse. “I told him I’d learned my lesson and I know that speeding causes accidents,” says Joseph Nguyen of Maple, Ont. “He reduced the fine and the demerit points.”
4. Preparing for trial
If you have to fight the ticket in court, consider hiring a paralegal to represent you. If you decide to go it alone, do your research by sitting in on some traffic ticket trials or visiting a free legal clinic. Don’t count on a cop not showing up for trial—in some jurisdictions, they get paid overtime to attend. To prepare your legal arguments, ask the prosecutor’s office for the police officer’s notes and other details of the case.
5. The trial
Common arguments involve casting doubt on the officer’s story. Defendants often argue that the speed measuring unit wasn’t used properly, or their view of a stop sign was obstructed. In a trial last year, when Nguyen faced a charge for playing his music too loud, the cop recalled that he pulled over a red Honda Civic. “I drive a Toyota Celica,” smiles Nguyen. “Because the officer made a false claim, the case was dropped.”